Used MG F review: 1997-2002
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In keeping with its fine heritage, the newest MG is a zippy little number that rides and drives beautifully. Mention the name MG and an image of a rakish sports car racing down a winding road, windscreen folded forward, its driver's hair blowing in the wind, comes to mind. The British brand is synonymous with sports cars, so it was a sad day when the revered badge was put down in the early 1980s.
But it was exciting when Rover unveiled a new MG in 1995. It was two more years before the MGF hit Australia, 24 years after the previous new MG sports car was sold here. Despite the absence, the love of MGs barely waned over the years. And the return of the octagonal badge on the MGF didn't disappoint.
Thankfully the F wasn't a stuffy remake of the past; it was a thoroughly modern design that brought the brand right up to date. It had to be because the sports car market was a lot hotter than in 1982. While MG was dormant, Mazda, BMW, Mercedes and Honda had developed new models. By the time MG returned to showrooms around the world, buyers had plenty of choice.
The F was a major departure from MG tradition, with its engine just behind the cockpit for optimum front-rear weight distribution and brilliant handling. Put simply, it was a great driver's car. Double wishbone independent suspension was featured at each end, along with anti-roll bars and Hydragas spring/damper units as well as a conventional strut.
The Hydragas suspension was a development of the old Hydrolastic suspension used on Minis back in the 1960s. It's a system that links the front and rear suspension units to better control the ride.
Steering was by rack-and-pinion and there was an electric option available that was both positive in feel and linear in response. Braking was by discs on all corners, ventilated at the front and solid at the rear, with the help of anti-lock electronics.
MG offered a choice of engines. The entry model was powered by a 1.8-litre double overhead camshaft fuel-injected four-cylinder that produced a respectable 90kW at 5500 revs and 166Nm at 3000 revs.
That was enough to have the F accelerating from rest to 100km/h in a little over nine seconds and on to a top speed of better than 190km/h. For more zip there was the VVC engine. The VVC was Rover's Variable Valve Control engine, a 1.8-litre double-overhead-cam, fuel-injected four. Variable valve timing alters the inlet valve opening and closing periods to deliver optimum performance, economy and emissions over a broad range of conditions.
The VVC engine produced a power peak of 107kW and maximum torque of 173Nm at 4500 revs, and was red-ined at 7300 revs. That was enough to power the F to 100km/h in 7.7 seconds and a top speed of 210km/h. Initially there was just one transmission on offer, a five-speed manual, but in 2001 there was also the choice of a sports-shift five-speed auto on the regular F.
The interior was roomy and comfortable. The boot was big enough for a reasonable amount of luggage. The roof was manually operated, but was easy to raise and lower. The rear window was plastic, which meant it was prone to discolouration over time if not looked after.
Standard features included dual airbags, power windows, central locking, engine immobiliser and sound system. Options were airconditioning, CD player and a hard top.
Upgraded models were introduced in late 2000. The F roadster got more equipment, including a tilt steering column and a CD player, and there was a five-speed sports-shift auto available. The VVC model was also upgraded with standard aircon, tilt column and CD sound.
In the shop:
Build quality has been an issue with British cars since the dark days of the '70s when it was a real concern. Today it's less of an issue, but is still something to consider. With the MGF, the main concern is interior trim, which doesn't stand up over time; and one F recently inspected had a foul smell, the result of getting wet with the roof down.
Jane Attard bought an MGF after considering a Toyota MR2 and a Mazda MX5. It offered the boot space, smooth ride and style she preferred. The MG had many standard features that were extra on the other cars, such as door sill tread plates and embroidered quality mats.
Jane also discovered how safe the MGF is when a crash finished her 99 MGF off; once the door was forced open, she walked out unhurt. Again she shopped for a sports car, looking at the MX5, MR2, Alfa, BMW Z3 and again bought an MGF.
Her new MGF steptronic came with even more features, including leather seat bolsters as standard. The full leather treatment, including the console and bins, was a factory option. For Jane, the MG is the winner.
Great ride and handling
Zippy VVC engine
Roomy with generous luggage space
Poor build quality
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